About five years ago I was first introduced to modern board games. I’d recently met some wonderfully nerdy people who were very into the hobby. They introduced me to the likes of Munchkin, Splendor, and Carcassonne.
At the time I was still mostly watching gaming YouTubers for entertainment (having given up on network television some years beforehand due to its lack of inclusivity or outright hostility towards people like me). A group I used to watch regularly, started making videos where they would play board games on Tabletop Simulator. One game that really drew me in was Battlestar Galactica. I’d really enjoyed the remake show and loved the idea of another way to experience that world.
So I bought my first modern game. It arrived, weighty and full of so many bits. So much punchboard (my favourite bit of opening a new game at this point), dials to put together, ships, cards, player stands, and (finally getting to the freaking point of this article) a manual. Every single example in the manual refers to players as he or him. Sure, they will sometimes say something like “current player”, but thereafter, everyone is he.
Are you a he? Come on in, pull up a hidden role card, dude. Experience life in the fleet, my guy. We’ll get that FTL drive up to speed in no time, fella. The rest of you, you don’t matter, get flushed out the airlock, the Men are playing now. Yes, we know there are women characters in this game, but they’re not for you, this hobby is not for you. Get flushed out the airlock and into the kitchen with the other toaster. Don’t come back without snacks. Frak off with that nonsense.
This is a blight across the world of board games. An unnecessary, insidious, boil on the bottom of the hobby I’ve come to love. With each new game, I add to my collection I tense as I read the manual for the first time. Is this going to be the same thing again? Will I be reading sections to my financée, and just correcting language as I read? It’s too common to find a game with this affliction.Too many board games, even ones released in the last five years, assume all the players are men. Almost as bad are games that go out of their way to write “he/she” and “his/her” over and over and over again. It’s completely unnecessary and still exclusionary. Do better.
(Alert. Alert. Brace for current year argument. Repeat, brace for current year argument). It’s 2020, (warned you) all sorts of people play tabletop games. Groups who play together are often as diverse as the games they play. Many big name games are still in print. It would be the simplest thing in the world to go through the manual (and in some cases cards), hit Ctrl + H and replace he/him/his with they/them/theirs. It’s a nothing resolution, but fuck me, it’s a ridiculous problem and it’s far too common.
There are plenty of companies out there making games where players are always referred to as just that, players. Thereby completely circumventing The Boys Club. If the team behind Binding of Isaac Four Souls can do it, so can a huge ass company like Fantasy Flight.
Women, non-binary, and agender people play games, read the manual for clarification, or just read the cards in their hand and all too often it states “…he must do x”, “…he adds y to his deck”, “…he may use this on himself”. It’s completely unnecessary and can leave some feeling unwelcome. These are people who play games (thereby encouraging sales within their group) or buy games themselves. They back expensive, big box Kickstarters.
My best friend is a non-binary gamer who – in a fit of drunken anger – spent an entire game going through the manual with a biro to change every he/him to they/them. I understand the anger, even if I lack that level of commitment.
We are non-male people, we have every right to be here, and your language is outdated and exclusionary. If a gendered pronoun means so much to you, why not add some variety throughout the manual. Use a mix of pronouns. You’re taking nothing from anyone and making more people feel welcome in a hobby where players can spend huge amounts on new games.
Despite the marketing, and historical anecdotes, board and tabletop gaming is not, and hasn’t ever been, exclusively a boys club. Do better.